Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Email newsletters are important to both business and social communication. Setting one up properly is key to acceptance and to avoid being a spammer.
I would like to start sending out a newsletter. How do I create a box on my web site so that people can subscribe to my newsletter? If I do create the subscription box, where to the submitted email addresses go? To me? To a directory on my host server? Is there any type of free or (really) low cost software online that I can use to create my newsletter?
Great questions, let's take a look at each in turn; and then my recommendation for what you might really want.
A subscribe box on your website is typically creating using HTML forms and a CGI script.
You place the form on your web page by using <FORM> and <INPUT> tags. This way you'd create a form that collects the email address and passes it on to the CGI script when the user pressed Submit.
A CGI script is a program that runs on your web server. For an email subscribe box it's typically a small program and in fact most ISPs support some common CGI scripts already, so it might not even be something you'd need to create. If you do end up wanting to write or acquire a CGI script of your own, then you may still need to check with your ISP to see if they'll let you install it on the web server.
The CGI script can do pretty much whatever you want it to do. Again, for an email subscription box typical actions might be to add the email address to a database or more commonly send email to an automated list manager, or perhaps even directly to you.
What then? Well, it really depends on how big a mailing list you're creating, how much work you want to put into it, and how much you might be willing to spend. A very simple solution is to simply have the email addresses sent to you, and then send your newsletter by sending a piece of email TO: all the recipients. (Bcc'ing might be preferred to hide everyone's email address from each other and respect their privacy.) Another approach might be to have the email addresses sent to one of the free email discussion list providers. More on that in a second. And the large scale solution would be to enlist the services of a mailing list service.
And as to creating the email you'll send to your list ... it's just email. Using whatever tool you're comfortable with.
Now, my recommendation.... if you're a personal or small or infrequent mailer, or perhaps if you're just starting out, use a service like Yahoo Groups. Set up a group there, and instead of attempting to collect email addresses or manage the group yourself, just instruct people to join your group. You can set up the group to be "announce only" so only you can send email to it, if you like. Depending on the provider, it may also still be possible to have people use a subscribe box on your site that then sends the appropriately formatted email to the service to initiate the subscribe process.
One of the reasons I really suggest using an existing service like Yahoo Groups is SPAM. In order to comply with recent laws and even just public perception, it's important to follow some steps when maintaining your list of email addresses. Steps like "double opt in", where you confirm each and every subscribe request with an "are you sure?" response, are now important parts of SPAM prevention. Services like Yahoo Groups handle this all for you.
Now, for the record, I've specifically elected to not get into the email business. SPAM and email born viruses are making the email mailing list business very difficult. It's still quite do-able, but I'd rather not deal with issues that result such as getting mistaken for SPAM, or dealing with subscribe and unsubscribe issues that can result from email viruses.
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